From MEMORIES OF ART
THE PALACE OF THE LEGION OF HONOR, SAN FRANCISCO: EDOUARD VUILLARD EXHIBIT
You are 22, have finished college and moved to Berkeley. A friend had promised to join you but has not. A friend of hers invites you to her parents’ San Francisco home for Christmas Eve, though you are all Jewish. You’re unfamiliar with the city and find the bus drivers rude and unhelpful, so you start out early in the day. You have gotten stoned before you leave; you don’t remember why—Did there have to be a reason then?
The house is on Forty-seventh Avenue and Anza, way out in the Richmond near the beach. You’re hours early, so when the bus pulls up to the Legion of Honor, you decide to get out and explore the museum. You’re the only visitor and a very stoned one at that. You land in a world of color, warmth, and light like the exquisitely illustrated book you loved as a child: a story of a cave filled with jewels, precise points of red and green and gold. Here are veils of colors, wrapping you inside a high domed cave of flickering warmth like Proust’s fireplace-heated bedroom. Yellow everywhere; you swim in it, looking up through water at the gold-rimmed world above. You float to interiors with vibrating wallpaper, landscapes with skies of the most summery blue, people throughout. Even in a still life of a bottle by a window, you sense they’ll return soon for the morsel and knife left on a plate.
And people hide in these paintings. With so much printed wallpaper, fabric on chairs and beds and screens, you don’t at first catch that little girl kneeling on a rug by a pillowed chair, her hair matching the comforter behind her. Or the mother near another bed: her blue dress at first a pillow, the child she holds up blending into the pink tablecloth and creamy wallpaper until you see the two dots of eyes and open mouth. Even the exterior scenes remind you of rooms; every landscape holds a person, a roof, a garden, or is seen from a window. So much intimacy here: people sleeping, reading, watching children, eating with family and friends; the bottles and dishes populating the table, a second, smaller party, just as lively and opinionated. Here is An Outspoken Dinner Party. The faces, immersed in yellow light, merge into the background. A man holds a pipe to his mouth and speaks to a woman leaning her chin on her hand, listening intently, a man and a woman, sitting quietly, watching on either side of them. In the center of the table two black bottles sheened with blue proclaim the power of dark paint.
Judith Serin teaches writing and literature at California College of the Arts, her collection of poetry, Hiding in the World, was published by Diane di Prima’s Eidolon Editions, she has published creative non-fiction in numerous journals, and her collection of short fiction is forthcoming from Eye Wear Publishing (U.K.).